Volume 76, Number 19 | September 27 - October 3, 2006


What’s the big rush at Pier 40?

A month and a half ago, The Villager first reported that the Hudson River Park Trust was readying to release a new request for proposals, or R.F.P., for developers for Pier 40. The next week we editorialized that the Trust should keep this R.F.P. shelved since a large portion of the community enjoys the pier’s current primary uses — the sports fields and long-term parking.

But the Trust went ahead anyway and issued the R.F.P. at the end of August. A date of Nov. 17 has been set for submissions from developers seeking a Pier 40 master lease of up to 49 years. The R.F.P. states the winning bidder will be picked within 90 days of the submission deadline, which means by sometime in February.

After the last Pier 40 R.F.P. process crashed three years ago, the Trust added a 3.5-acre artificial-turf sports field in the W. Houston St. pier’s courtyard. This was deemed an interim plan until the Trust decided to issue a new R.F.P. for the 14-acre pier.

Yet, during this so-called interim period, these sports fields have enjoyed tremendous, incessant usage by local youth sports leagues and others and become an integral part of Downtown’s landscape. So, of course, has the pier’s long-term parking, which local residents have used for many years.

Any attempt to change these uses, or interrupt them for any amount of time, will be met with the full force of the community’s opposition.

Granted, in its R.F.P. the Trust makes it clear that keeping the fields is of “paramount importance,” as is keeping at least 1,800 of the existing 2,000 parking spaces. However, the Trust seems more open to allowing an alternate use to gradually replace the parking — as long as this replacement provides the Trust with at least the $5 million annually the parking does.

Word is the Trust is pushing the R.F.P. because the 45-year-old pier needs a $30 million renovation. Yet the Trust should go to government sources — not private developers — for these funds. It’s not worth tampering with a well-functioning Pier 40 just to get the funds to renovate it.

Of great concern, there seems a rush to do the process with a minimum of public conversation. We can only conclude this urgency is because the administration in Albany will change when Governor Pataki leaves office at year’s end. The prospective new governor, Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, would likely shake up the Trust’s directors board by making up to five new appointments. Is the Trust’s G.O.P.-packed board trying to ram this R.F.P. through and sign a binding 49-year contract with a megadeveloper before Spitzer is elected? With this timeframe, how can anyone think otherwise?

This seems just the latest case of a New York park agency circumventing the public will. Slow down the process, and, even better, as we said before — shelve it. And if the process must move forward, then, for heaven’s sake, involve the public.

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